Posts Tagged ‘steaks’

Pursuing my tour of some of the finest steakhouses of New York, having tried Peter Luger, Keens, Strip House, Quality Meats  and Wolfgang.

Dropped by Gallagher’s Steakhouse, a historical steakhouse, which, during the days of the prohibition, was the first illicit establishment selling alcohol where gamblers and stars of Broadway would meet.

In the incredibly competitive steakhouse market of NYC (perhaps, the steakhouse mecca of the world – I mean, do you know any other major city with that many world class steakhouses? Do you? ), you know you have reached the enviable status of a historic shrine at whatever you do when the NY Times writes romanticized write-ups with eye-candy photographs of this sort about you – .

At Gallagher’s Steakhouse,  I ordered:

Platter of 12 oysters – Dabob bay from Hood canal (Washington) and Canadian lucky lime. Nicely shucked quality fresh oysters. The lucky lime had the advertised citrus-tone finish in evidence. The intertidal beach cultured  Dabob bay oysters, quite briny for an oyster coming from the Pacific. The mignonette properly done. A platter of fine oysters. 7/10

The 20 oz rib eye steak (Grade: USDA Prime), dry aged for 28 – 32 days on premise in their glass-enclosed meat locker ( You can see it from the street – a sight to behold). The meat is grilled on hickory coals, a rarity in a city where most steakhouses do broil their steaks. Grilling meat over an open fire has always been my preferred grilling method for meats. The requested medium rare doneness achieved with utter precision. It delivered on flavor (the seasoning, exquisite –  the steak  as delicious as it gets) and was superbly tender throughout. The great grilling effect of the open fire in evidence to the eyes/smell/palate.  Dazzling crust. My steak had its juices settled within the meat, therefore timely rested. A steak is not a moon landing mission and one can do great steaks at home, indeed, but what matters here is that this is a steakhouse and it is doing one of the better steaks in NYC. Easily the best rib eye steak I ever had at all the top tier steakhouses of NY. 10/10

The creamed spinach. Here too, the G seems to have the edge as the creamed spinach had superb taste and great balance between the cream and spinach flavours. Superb texture too. Just some delicious creamed spinach like few — surprisingly, indeed – seem to be able to pull out at the NYC steakhouses. Vibrant fresh and delicious flavours. 9/10

Even the crème fraîche to accompany the baked potato was not of the ordinary sort. The baked potato managing, somehow, not to be just an average piece of tired looking baked potato simply because most kitchen brigades keep such simple things for granted (as most diners do, actually), when, in reality, the sourcing of your potato and how you timed its baking makes a big difference. Here, they did care about that difference.

Bottom line: A very beautiful steakhouse (the warmth of materials such as  wood and leather never failing to entice) in the classic genre. But the food was as great. Where many steakhouses seem to deliver  tired renditions of classic steakhouse food, the G seems to find a way to make it a bit more exciting in mouth (even their homemade sauce to accompany the steak, made of tomato/garlic/Worcestershire sauce, was well engineered as far as balancing flavors go, its taste great ). A commendable steakhouse, indeed.

Overall rating: Food 9/10 One of the very best steakhouses of NYC.   The steaks are great here, but everything else as well. For my taste, the G and Peter Luger are my No1 steakhouses in New York, with the G being a better all rounder, for sure. Furthermore, nothing beats the appealing  texture as well as memorable grilling aromas of a steak that is grilled on open fire (a broiled steak looks unappetizing in comparison). Service 8/10 (superb service in the typical classic NYC steakhouse way). Gallaghers Steakhouse Addr: 228 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 Phone: 212-586-5000 URL: http://www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com/

 

Keen’s Steakhouse – New York, NY

Posted: July 6, 2019 in aged beef, best aged beef, best aged steak, best dry aged beef, best dry aged steak, best porterhouse steak, best restaurants in new york, Best steakhouses, best steaks, excellent service, High hospitality standards, new york, steak, steakhouse, The World's Best Steaks, Top steaks in the world
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Keens is an institution of NYC, a piece of restaurant  history that started in the  19th century (established in 1885). Its dark wood walls are covered with a tasteful  display of  memorabilia (time-honored paintings, photos, cartoons).   This restaurant could be an incredible shooting location for a movie.

 

The avid fan of history that I am  had to find himself in this charming old world  decor, espying what could have possibly been the pipe of Roosevelt over here (thousands  of clay pipes of  patrons who dined at Keens are on display on the steakhouse’s ceiling), climbing the same stairs as Einstein over there.   Nowadays, Keens is one of NYC’s most popular steakhouses, attracting tourists, locals as well as many connoisseurs of North American steaks (as you will see below, their steaks did not « rest on their laurels »). But, with legendary places like this one, I am on my guard, always ensuring that  the lore shall never be part of the lure.

On a previous visit here, over 2 years ago, I did try their fabled slow roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop (aka the ”mutton chop“). It is not mutton, anymore. It  is  lamb  that they do serve nowadays. The lamb is raised in  Colorado,  some of the  most sought after lamb  in the nation. Colorado does offer to its  free-ranging sheep,  vast swathes of vegetation to feed on, thanks to the numerous mountains and hills of the state. The sourcing of this piece of  pasture raised lamb was  of high level , its subtly earthy lamb flavor  (milder than, say the flavour of lamb from New Zeland)  dazzled. Boasting an enticing color, definely tender, this  was as great as your roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop  will be if served to you at a top tier  steakhouse. 9/10

Then last year I dropped by with a long time genuine connoisseur of North American steakhouses and we had the porterhouse.  For anyone truely familiar with beef aging, it was easy to enjoy the great effect of the dry aging (they dry-age and butcher the meat on the premises) process that went into that piece of meat (great concentration of beef flavor). The thing about aging meats is to think about the right effect for the right meat. Oftently, you see people dry aging then wet aging their meat (perfect recipe to cancel the benefit of dry aging that meat …), dry aging meat that has fat that is so delicate that it cannot  ‘age’  well (highly marbled wagyu as in this case at Dons de la Nature, one of Tokyo’s leading steakhouses. It is the sort of fat that is way too delicate to   benefit from dry aging — I will write, later on, a detailed article on what type of fat benefits from the aging process and why), dry aging fishes that have the taste of nothing if you age them (few fishes do benefit from the dry aging process, most do not…most fishes that are aged do simply fit in the ridiculous trend of aging the flesh for the pleasure of following a trend, as stupid as that – ). Not all steakhouses do master the dry aging of meats as  obsessively well as, at, let us say, Le Divil in Perpignan, but the concentration of flavor of that porterhouse steak  at Keens revealed some serious mastery of the dry aging of their meats.   8/10

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request ( I suggest that you do not order a charred prime rib. I did request it charred as I was looking for that specific  effect on that evening, but prime rib is better in its non charred version IMHO), served with au jus.  The loin end   rarely fails to be flavorful once cooked,  and yet, you realize how, in the USA, they have perfected its cooking  with no shortage of dazzling renditions of the  prime rib such as the ones you can enjoy at  establishments such as the House of Prime RibLawry‘s or   Dickie Brennan‘s  to name a few. But this prime rib at Keens was not out of place in that fierce competition, as here again, you had all the qualities of a stellar piece of North American steak (the quality of the meat really high as you would expect from a North American steakhouse of this reputation, the standing rib roast timely cooked, its delicious fat properly rendered, the seasoning competent, the steak craveable ).   8/10

 

I love Keen but I was NOT  in love with my platter of a dozen of oysters: all had their superb maritime flavour in evidence, true, but some of the oysters were served a bit too cold than expected at a restaurant serving seafood. The shucking could have been better, too.

Our sides of creamed spinach , sautéed mushrooms and cooked broccoli did not tantalize both my girlfriend and myself :  for both of us,  this preparation of their creamed spinach  did not  enhance  the taste of the spinach. And they did add a bit less cream than I would have preferred.  Still, their way of doing it is one legit classic way of cooking the creamed spinach and I am fine with that.  The broccoli,  I need them to retain a vivid fresh appearance  (I am not here to talk about cooking techniques but there’s a technique for that, there is a technique that allows your broccoli  to be nicely cooked while retaining its perfect crunch and vivid looks, a technique that is widely documented. There is no doubt that the kitchen brigade at Keens knows how to do that, but, again, their choice is to remain classic, therefore they did use a more classical approach  and that is to be respected. As for the mushrooms, they  looked and felt as if they were sautéed a bit too long  and served a bit too late,  the taste of the mushrooms not in evidence.

The crab cake of my girlfriend  featured   fresh crab flavour, the seasoning well judged. The crab came from Maryland and it is in season right now, consequently its depth of flavour was remarkable. Of her crab cake, she said that it was about “”the full taste of the crab and not a lot of filler””, which was a good thing.  7/10

Bottom line: This article of the NY Mag had its author arguing that   « The meat isn’t first class anymore, especially by the standards of today » at Keens…another one of the absurd and senseless suggestions of our so-called food journalists. A steak is first class if the quality of the meat is great, the cooking accurate, the flavours on point, the extra steps to elevate the taste of that meat making a difference (for example, my pieces of steak, here, at Keens, did benefit from the nuances that an educated palate would detect as nuances that can only come from a competently dry aged piece of quality meat). And you do all of that better than at most other steakhouses, which is the case of Keens.  You stop being first  class the day your steak costs an arm and a leg only to have the taste and feel of a generic-tasting piece of meat that you  would buy at the supermarket (the case of one so-called legendary steakhouse right here in The old Montreal …). Keens has nothing to do with an outdated steakhouse.  For his  steaks, Keens is still one of NYC’s very best. I was not in love with the sides, but again, this was (more of) a matter of preference (at the exception of the mushrooms) rather than the sides being faulty. They need to control the temperature of those oysters, though. My number 1 North American steakhouse is still Peter Luger (the one in Brooklyn) , but that takes nothing away from the superb steaks of Keens. The service and ambience at Keens are  also  great. One of my preferred chophouses in NYC. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (7/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (8/10 ) –  Keens steakhouse Addr: 72 West 36th St. New York, NY 10018 Phone: 212-947-3636 URL: http://www.keens.com

 

I went to the luxurious mall at Hudson Yards and tried couple of the food items (the shopping mall has eateries recently opened by some of the most popular Chefs out there)  that some of NYC’s food journalists have called their current hits. One that caught my attention was Fuku’s Vada Pav (pictured above), a deep fried potato patty with hints of fried garlic, pickle, scallion sauce, inspired by one of my all time favourite deep fried food items, Maharashtra’s Wada Pav. WP is easy to make and easy to love. If you have been cooking a bit, that’s the sort of combination of ingredients that rarely fails to be a hit (logical combination of ingredients where one ingredient serves as a flavour enhancer to the next). At Fuku, such  potential was left at bay, as the patty was WAY  too dry. So dry that I was not able to discern any flavour. I was not expecting Fuku to deliver a dazzling WP. I was simply expecting a deep fried potato patty to be what it’s supposed to be: a food item that rarely fails to be enjoyable. Somehow, they could not manage that. They have just one way out, with this one and it is to freshly fry and serve their WP as the customer orders it. Or find a way to emulate that effect.  0/10

In that mall, we found kawi creative enough (for food served inside a mall in North America) but absudly pricey as well as a tad unnecessarily fancy. At Kawi, we enjoyed their sweet and sour ribs. It is not the best we had, but probably one of their better menu items.

 

Cousins Maine Lobster, 77 Lexington Ave, NYC- This is an offshoot of a franchise food truck business based in Los Angeles. I grew up on an Island of the Indian Ocean with  the freshest  seafood possible at the lowest unimaginable cost . So now, it is payback time, lol. I have to pay for all that fresh low-cost (with low cost not synonymous of low quality, in this instance ) seafood I was blessed with in  my tender childhood, and you could not have found  a better place than a city of the western world to make that payback time a reality. CML’s seafood  was certainly not going to be a serious threat to  the dazzling seafood of my tender childhood, even at equal cost, but at what it is — essentially a chain selling lobster-rolls and some other few lobster-based fast-seafood items –, it is certainly an example for others to follow. My review here.

Sushi Amane has, at its helm, a young talented Chef who has spent several years at the current world’s best sushiya in Tokyo (Sushi Saito). The young talent has decided to give a try to NYC. I went paying a visit to Sushi Amane. There were certainly some very delicious food items to be enjoyed during that meal, but also some noticeable flaws that I took the time to constructively write about, here. Ironically, at the time of writing these lines, despite the abundance of online reviews on SA, from both the so-called self proclaimed food experts as well as the majority of opinions on the crowd-sourced review forums, no one have noticed what  I have noticed…so either those folks have no clue of what assessing sushi should be about, or I was simply unlucky. Anyways…

Quality Meats is  a steakhouse that I really wanted to love, based on the rave reviews of some of NYC’s best steakhouse experts. I was less lucky than them with my steak, but the sides were  good. My review here.

Jeju Noodle bar is a Korean Noodle bar  restaurant that delivered superb Korean freshly made Instant Noodles (Ramyun) gourmet dishes. They also have some competently rendered cooked and raw food items. Service is great, the experience very enjoyable. My review, here.

Roberta’s Pizza started in Brooklyn and it was so popular that they now have several branches across the US. I went to the one in Brooklyn, where it all started. Do not expect anything fancy, here. You go there essentially for the pizza and when you try it, you will understand why their competitors are not sleeping at night, Lol. It is always hard to call a pizza ‘world class’ or ‘benchmark’. Therefore I will refrain from using such superlatives, but let us just politely put it that way: the legions of people flocking to Roberta’s Pizza have not lost their mind. My review, here.

There were  lots of buzz about Ichiran NYC  and I have nothing again buzz. After all, how can you be in business without buzz? Buzz is essential. I am all for the buzz, but then you need to deliver, and that is exactly where I was  disappointed with Ichiran NYC. Listen, I know it is a chain of ramen. I know we are not in Japan. I know it can’t have the exclusive feel of an artisan Chef’s ramenya. And I went there with all of that in mind, which means with very realistic expectations and I was still disappointed because very basic things such as serving a proper warm fully runny egg and a decent chashu seemed to have eluded them. Which is not what one needs to experience at a ramenya, whether it is a chain or a solo operation.  My review here.

Haitian food is one of my top 7 preferred cuisines in the world. We live in a world that is dominated by what the West wants to sell you as great or not, therefore none of the major online  food writers  will have the gut to even mention that Haitian cuisine exists, lol. Mind you, their purpose is to serve as ‘promoters’ of the food industry colonialist mentality, a mentality that takes the form of such thinking  as ”’Western and Japanese food and produce’ are of course…  the best in the World. All the rest does not even exist”. I do not need them to know what’s great or not and one of the things I find great is the dazzling simple homey cuisine from Haiti. They do not have many dishes, but a great sense of flavours. Deep, bold, rich flavours with the delicious lambi en sauce, lalo, bouillon, etc coming to mind. Of course, this is not food to put on instagram, but I do not eat Instagram, I eat  food!!  My preferred Haitian restaurant, for now, in NY , is La Caye but LC is so popular that the wait was too long. We therefore had a Plan B, which was a Haitian eatery that I was going to try for the first time, Chloe’s Restaurant & Lounge in Brooklyn, NY. Chloe’s was a mixed affair. My review, here.

I also tried Sorbillo NYC – great effort by the local pizza scene in NYC to minimize the greatness of SNYC. But the real connoisseurs of the Neapolitan pizza are not going to be fooled: it is, right now, in NYC, one of their very best Neapolitan pizza. Of course, you are not in Naples, therefore the price tag of such pizza in NYC may enrage those who know the cost of such pizza back in Italy. Of course, you do not have easy access in NYC to the dazzling produce of Italy. But at the end of the day, it is one great Neapolitan piZza in NYC. My review of Sorbillo, here.

sh01Strip House Steakhouse is considered as one of the very best steakhouses of New York by the big majority of the city’s  most serious  steakhouse connoisseurs, some of them even  considering the steaks more flavorful at Strip House than at the legendary Peter Luger. It would be a nonsense to eat an average piece of steak in the Mecca of North American style steakhouses, New York, so I did a lot of searches and Strip House ended up ranking high on my list of steakhouses to try in New York.

West coast met East coast in a platter of perfectly well shucked quality oysters, with a dazzling mignonette, and an equally dazzling home made sauce, some tabasco. Oysters have to be great at a steak house of this reputation and they were. Where I needed them to excel was in their homemade sauce and mignonette. They did. 7/10

Lobster bisque , maine lobster, pearl couscous tasted enticingly of fresh lobster flavor, which it has to, indeed. It paled a bit, though, in comparison to the finer lobster bisque that could come from a fine French restaurant (its way-too-thick texture just not as refined, the flavor just not as complex) but that was to be expected at a steak house. 6/10

sh05Filet mignon was the pick of my girlfriend. She thought that the  char was not necessary for a filet mignon (well…honey, it is a North American steakhouse, lol!! Not a French restaurant …) but thought that it tasted fine enough. 6/10

 

sh02 The strip  is their signature steak , but I went for my preferred cut , the bone-in rib eye. The USDA prime meat is wet-aged for at least 21 days.  I usually prefer the effect of a 35 to 40 days dry-aged cut, which was not the case of this steak I was having.  They use a 1800 degree broiler to cook the steak and coat it with olive oil and pepper and that allowed for a nice tasty brown crust. I chose the 20 oz bone-in rib eye . Not much to say about my steak, as a steak house of this quality will usually get the requested doneness right (medium rare to my request), the meat certainly well sourced. Which is exactly what happened here. But the 20  oz bone in rib eye is wet aged, and for someone like me who has long embraced the hype of the dry aged meat, this wet aged piece left no impression (just not enough umami sensation on the palate, just not as meaty and flavorful, I find). Great char, nice  salt and pepper rub, though. Still…game, set and match: dry aged meat wins, for my taste. 6/10

sh03Crisp goose fat potatoes came in the form of a big croquette (6/10), quality asparagus retained a superb crunch (good, but somehow Wolfgang does a tastier rendition)

 

sh04Creamed spinach was fine, but I found the one at Peter Luger a tad more exciting in mouth. Still, this was tasty and had an enticing cheesy-alike taste that I kinda liked. 6/10

Ice cream and sorbet were good,  coffee (Rwanda single origin) was watery and not as flavorful as its enticing description (Silky body, lemon acidity, notes of pineapple and dark chocolate)  may suggest.

Pros: A classy steakhouse, with superb service and its own cachet
Cons: No serious quibble to raise, but as a diner you need to know that they have wet aged as well as dry aged cuts. If, like me, your ideal North American style steak is a 40 days expertly dry aged bone in 2″ inch thick 20 oz cut, then their 20 oz bone in rib eye is not what you are looking for. But they have other steaks that are dry aged such as the 14oz rib eye, 14oz new york strip, porterhouse for two.

Bottom line: a service and an overall dining experience that far surpassed what I have experienced at Peter Luger and Wolfgang. However, they need to fix the issue of the watery coffee. It is easy to make great coffee, so no excuse there. On the topic of the food, I was not blown away. True. But it would be accurate to underline  that no wet aged steak has ever impressed me, so,  obviously,  just a matter of personal taste. 6/10 as an overall rating  for the sides (fine sides, though a tad less impressive than at Wolfgang, for the sake of comparison). I won’t rate the steak – it was a perfectly well executed steak of the wet aged sort, but wet aged  steaks  are not my cup of  tea. 10/10 for the service and overall dining experience.

 

 

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WOLFGANG1***Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (New York)

 

I dropped by Manhattan which is situated couple of hours drive away from Montreal and ate at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Ave which owner (Wolfgang Zwiener) was a waiter at Peter Luger for four decades. If,like me, you are both a huge fan of North American style steakhouses as well as Arts, then this place combines both attractions  under one roof as the artfully decorated ceiling is worthy of attention. On to the point, I could not order their star item, the Porterhouse for two , because my dining companion insisted on ordering her sirloin, which I did not taste, thus cannot opine on, but she certainly was not unhappy about it.

WOLFGANG2I ordered the Bone-in rib eye steak  which, although not the best I had in North America, was at least not far neither from the (rare) better  ones, the 28 days ++  dry aged USDA prime cut packed with enticing robust taste sensation, featuring a well judged char  (charred enoughly long for a proper crusty exterior while leaving the inside perfectly buttery tender and juicy), the steak cooked  to the exact measure of doneness requested (medium rare). I also  had some excellent blue point oysters from Long Island, big, plump and tasting marvellously of the sea. The sides are also well prepared here: broccoli was timely sauteed with chips of garlic, the french fries packed with fresh  potato flavor and boasting attractive texture, with only the mushrooms failing to be enjoyable because they were  way too salty.

As those in the know would know, NY is the  mecca of the finest  steakhouses in the world, so the fierce competition is obviously forcing  the chophouses to step up their game  and the diners to be particularly picky.

But at the end of the day, at such  level of perfecting the steak, it boils down to personal tastes:  I like and I am perfectly able to appreciate the nuances of the “feel” of dry aged over wet aged meat, and this rib eye  steak met my expectations. I tend to perceive meat that is dry aged in between 35 to 40 days  to provide the mouthfeel I want, and the taste of that steak  had an effect on the palate that got  close to what I wanted  (perhaps short of  3,4 extra days of dry aging, for my taste, but I am nitpicking here).

There are perhaps two or three  exceptional North American artisan butchers as well as steakhouses that  did surprise me with rib  steaks that were a  tad superior to this one I was having at Wolfgang Steakhouse, but  WS  is a genuinely great North American chophouse.

That said, it is pricey and at those prices, I wished the service could be more consistent… it was not bad, actually really great in the beginning (not overbearing, very courteous) , but as soon as it got busy,  both my dining companion and myself  virtually stopped existing:

the table was left without water for 45 mins…I can understand that you want us to  enjoy our meal and not be bothered by the  constant presence of the wait staff…but 45 minutes and not realizing that there is no water at a table, another 30 mins with no wait staff in sight, etc…well, I can see no excuse for that. In such case, your good food turns out to be good, indeed …BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH to wait 45 mins to get water and another 30 mins to get the attention of a waiter.

And IF your narrative happens to be that the priority is to the tables bringing more $$, then man up and be consequent with yourself and put a sign at the door clearly stating that is your priority. That way, I am not wasting my time, and I am not wasting yours, too. I can understand that this is a first world complaint for the most, but in the context of a high end steakhouse charging some  serious $$, that is NOT correct and I am certainly not going back to encourage that. Too bad because the food (steaks, sides, etc) here was more delicious and was better executed than at most of the other steakhouses of NYC, and  it is a truely beautiful steakhouse in its genre and things started really well, but as a  customer , you tend, sometimes,  to  remember  what soured … – Overall ratings: Steaks (8/10), Appetizers (8/10), Sides (8/10 ), Service (5/10 ) – Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue , Addr: 4 Park Ave, New York, NY 10016,  Phone:+1 212-889-3369

Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Phone:+81 3-3563-4129
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://dons-nature.jp/

DLN is widely considered as a top tier steakhouse in Tokyo. Service (by the wife of the Chef)  was uneven for a 1 star Michelin restaurant: over-the-board friendly with some diners, decent with others…which, I gather, is ‘normal’  in ‘general life’ as this boils down to chemistry between people..less so  by the standards of  a 1 star Michelin restaurant. That said,  rest assured that the service is still really really good (you are in Japan, after all). The quality of the meat is the main reason that brought me here, and there is no denying it: the quality is, as expected, of top shelf mention. Sadly,  Wagyu is overrated, which is not the fault of DLN, indeed, but DLN …as a steakhouse…needs to pair  better red wine to their steak.  

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Dons de la Nature is widely considered  as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature  at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that  comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere),  and when they say Wagyu,  then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.

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Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is  usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of  intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.

THE FOOD:

I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.

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The meat  available on the day of my visit was  Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin,  as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the  characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).

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Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my  preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) ,  inside a kiln.  From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen  clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),

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so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly,  the umami  kick  that the  media and plenty of online accounts have praised  continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is  definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt)  but I get more exciting umami flavor from most   40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling.  I also do not get the comparision to  foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong:  this is   quality red meat, that is for sure,  the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful.   I admire the  quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a  6/10, at best, for me  (Grade: A5/  Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging  + 30 other days of dry aging )

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The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine.  But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.

Pros:  Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu.  You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.

Cons:   Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.

 

Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef (she was the sole waitress on that evening) is very enthusiastic, perhaps more with some than  others, but I am nitpicking here. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.

My verdict and conclusion:  I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature.  But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear  that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even  ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase  any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s  focus is on what matters most:  the flavor!!!.

What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.

This puts an end to my two months of intense search for Montreal’s finest steaks at steakhouses, butchers and steak shops. The results of such search is always controversial: this or that one was perhaps forgotten, this or that one has the advantage of offering this or that whereas the other does not, bla bla bla. But the advantage I have is that I am not paid to do this, therefore do owe nothing to no one, it is my own hard earned money and all I care about is sharing what I think is fine or not. You take or you leave it.

So, I paid a visit to Boucherie Bio Saint-Vincent (Marché Jean Talon), known as one of Montreal finest butchers. What sets them apart is that the meat they sell comes from the Charolais cattle (as opposed to the wide offering of Canadian and US Black Angus), a breed that I know well thanks to my long years  in France. Their  Charolais is raised here locally in Quebec at les Fermes Saint-Vincent , grass fed, and the meat is aged for at least 21 days.

This is quality meat, there is no doubt about this, and at the simple visual inspection of the rib steak, I was impressed by the superb texture of the meat  as well as great condition of the  the bone that’s attached to it (recently, I was served at an upscale steakhouse with a rib steak which bone was bent in such an unappealing way that I had visions of the beast being mistreated…imagine how tiny were the chances for that steak to score high..those seem to be little details but a superb steak scores high on all fronts, even on such seemingly futile aspect).

The thing to set straight is that there is no debate over this being superior or not to the other steaks I have scored high  earlier on. Charolais is known to  feature a meat that’s essentially lean, so take this into account if you want to order this meat. This is grass fed, whereas all the steaks I reviewed earlier on were mostly corn finished.  On the aspect of tenderness, I have no reproach to raise:  it was perfectly tender, though expectedly a bit firmer than some of the Certified Canadian Black Angus  rib steaks  I have  sample (normal, the Black Angus rib steaks had obviously higher marbling and were aged longer).   On the aspect of the aging, Charolais beef being lean, you can’t really expect the deep aging effect of a  long dry aged rib steak of the fattier (obviously not a bad thing when it comes to meat flavor) Canadian Black Angus breed, to take an example.  That said,  for my taste, and with the reminder that Charolais and Canadian Black Angus are great in their very own merits,  Maitre Boucher Marc Bourg’s 40 days aged rib steak remains the most impressive cut of all the aged rib steaks I tried all along this rundown, especially for its texturally well accomplished marbling, deeper rich  flavor of the fat,  and an aging aspect that shone through superbly (fabulous gamey/nutty character).

So Voilà, my rundown of Montreal finest steaks and steakhouses is over. It is just meat, so as I wrote earlier on, your good luck lies in the hand of your butcher, his ability to select the finest meats out there. Serious butchers do not cheat with quality, so boot from there.

On an ending note, here are my suggestions for what I view as a top of the crop rib steak:

1.Pick a 2′ thick rib steak. It is just more appealing to watch, and if there’s anything
faulting, it is easier to spot.
2.Bone-in, not boneless. Again, better for the visual aspect, it adds flavor and nature never lies:
a bone in superb condition tells a bit about how well the animal might have been treated.
3.I personally prefer a beautiful dry aged bone-in rib steak than the fresh vivid red textured
younger ones. The trick here is to get a butcher who is ahead of his colleagues on virtually all fronts:
-it needs to be a serious butcher with the exceptional ability to shop for the finest meat possible.
A good way to know if your butcher rises to the challenge is to question him/her about his way of
selecting his/her meat. Just ensure you have informed yourself a lot about meats, have experienced a lot
with their subtleties, visited farms, are passionate about the subject, and trust your instinct:
good liars will always leave trails of BS on their way. Real serious butchers stick to strong principles
of quality.
-rib steaks from some breeds and at higher grading do  react better to proper aging technique.
for example, I find that a carefully selected quality Canadian  Certified Black Angus is better rewarded — compared
to some other breeds — to a high standard dry aging technique. His marbling simply reacts well, its texture
showing a convincing beautiful and natural smoky-looking aging appearance. Lower grades do certainly suffer
from less convincing beautiful aging aspect, and non serious condition of aging (wrong temperatures, inappropriate aging room)
always lead to amateurish cuts
-a great butcher knows how to get the most of his aged rib steak. For example, I never trusted mixed aging techniques
such as wet aging then dry aging, etc. They just don’t provide beautiful aging texture, in my experience. Long dry aging
a nicely marbled and carefully selected meat provides simply better aged cuts. A butcher who seems to genuinely
understand this principle is a winner in my personal assessment.
-Look at how the aged rib steak meat is stored. It should be hanged, unless you are, of course, picking it from
a counter at a meat shop. But then again, I prefer the butcher who goes in his aging room and slice that cut
in from of me.
-if you see your aged meat sealed in plastic, look elsewhere. Aged meats need to breath
-a butcher who encourages you to spice your aged rib steak with pepper and sauces is basically suggesting
a recipe to kill the appreciation of the meat. After all, this is perhaps the sign that his rib steak is not enoughly
good to be appreciated in its full glory.
-butchers are like musicians. The better ones will fire more inspired vocal compositions. Notes if you want.
so if your butcher keeps repeating what all other keep saying, it is not one of the best. A sign of a great butcher
transpires in the little inspired gestures that makes a real difference in the enjoyment of your meat.
As an example, during this 2 months run down, Maitre Boucher Marc Bourg was the only one  to suggest I lay the piece of meat in a specific position  while its resting on the counter before being grilled. That is showing great understanding of  meat, since indeed that position ensures proper continuation of the butcher’s hanging technique and improves tenderness. Great call.
-If your butcher seems to play little attention to details about the treatment of the cattle, the level of stress at slaughtering, the diet of the cattle…that is not a good butcher at all
4.Beautifully dry aging of a carefully selected high grade rib steak reacts well on a grill. No need of oiling the grill or your meat for real top quality dry aged cuts. You’ll kill its fabulous texture. Just lay that beautiful cut of rib steak  on the bbq grill  for the time that matches with the doneness you want to achieve. Do not go beyond medium rare! Do not add butter! No Pepper, Lol! Let it rest in aluminium foil and just pour a bit of fleur de sel on that beauty! Enjoy!

PS:  If you know of any place where I can sample Simmental, please let me know.